Venturing into Sri Lanka – Part 2

Besides Plonnaruwa, the Sigiriya rock is something not to be missed when doing the Cultural Triangle in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Its structure is striking, a rock with nearly vertical walls that rises up among a stretch of green with the remains of a fortress on top of it. It’s about 1000+ steps to the top with few staircases that are attached to the wall of the rock in midair. Quite freaky to tell you the truth, be careful acrophobics, I guess I was kind of grateful for the fog that morning.

(TIP: another important part of the triangle will be the city of Anuradhapura which is roughly an hour and a half drive from Dambulla)

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Can you spot the rock? – Sigiriya Rock

That morning was our last in Dambulla and after yet another great breakfast at the guesthouse we were staying at, we bid our generous hosts-who packed us some fruits for the road- goodbye. We had a ride arranged for that day since the plan was to head to Nuwara Eliya afterwards and it wouldn’t have been possible to get that easily accomplished using public transport. The day we went to Sigiriya marked the start of the surprise the weather had for us! It was raining since morning and got heavier as we were about to climb up the rock. The fog was so dense that the rock itself wasn’t visible as we took on the path leading to the staircases and into the top.

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Half way to the top – Sigiriya Rock

The steps were slippery and with some being higher than the others, we had to be extra careful. On the way up, a set of spiral stairs will take you to those mesmerizing frescoes; those intricate wall paintings in bright earthy colors that absolutely astounded me (we weren’t allowed to take pictures unfortunately!). The views along the way up were stunning, they intensified as we reached the top. I was surrounded by this vastness of evergreen, everywhere I looked I saw greenery. The scene was decorated by scattered white dots that accounted for Buddhist temples with prayers floating in the air surrounding the summit. It was so calming that despite being drenched, I was unruffled. I kept on thinking, if it was that beautiful in such miserable weather, how it would be if the sun was illuminating the horizon?

(TIP: Sigiriya can be a good location for watching the sunrise. Another less famous spot in the area will be the Pidurangala Rock.)

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The view from the top – Sigiriya Rock

We needed to change our soaking clothes by the time we were down and despite being in a dry outfit; I was still shivering over my wet scarf!! As we continued on our way to Nuwara Eliya afterwards, we asked our driver if we can make a quick stop at a spice garden. We did and oh boy that turned out to be interesting 😀 The tour didn’t only include introducing us to lots of spices, herbs and their uses, but it also comprised a free massage and consultation from the herbal doctor. The “doctor” claims he can know all about your health by measuring your pulse, his services are optional and free of charge. That sounded eccentric so I thought why not!! In addition to measuring my pulse, the doctor asked me loads of questions. So he must get down to something eventually, right? His diagnosis of my physical and psychological health was interesting! He talked about lots of organs that I need to get “cleaned” including my spleen. He wrote a very long and detailed prescription full of those herbs that I’m supposed to use for a few months. I wasn’t forced to buy any but the overall sum was ridiculous.

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The Lion’s Paws which represent the entrance of the Lion Gate and the last stretch of stairs to the top – Sigiriya Rock

The doctor saved the best for last; beauty! I think I didn’t measure up to his standards of beauty and that encouraged him to bring up the subject of losing weight so I would become prettier. Don’t all women want to be pretty he asked! Not that I’m not one, he then implied! PHEW!! Well, weight is a very subjective matter in my opinion and being overweight doesn’t mean that one is any less beautiful so excuse me if I didn’t fall for this. I read a quote online that says “to be beautiful means to live confidently in your own skin” and I totally believe in this. So what matters is to be truly at peace with myself whether that falls under anyone’s definition of peace or not.

Before concluding the consultation, the guy gave me his email and number and told me I can contact him only in my darkest moments when I need to talk to someone who is not family nor a friend!! He stressed the point of not contacting him when I’m happy, only when I’m miserable!! Not sure if I would want to do that thank you very much!

(TIP: while I was searching something for this post I came upon those TripAdvisor reviews about one spice garden and guess what? It is the one we stopped at and the reviews were not encouraging, so you may want to be careful if that’s the garden you are visiting. To be honest, nothing really happened. They just kept on stalling us to try things and we ended up wasting a good couple of hours. My friend bought some spices and she said they were old. I bought the tea we sampled and it wasn’t the same!! So, nothing major!)

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Vanilla tree – The Spice Garden

After that unusual affair, we continued on our way to Nuwara Eliya. We were already driving through the hill country of Central Province over cliff roads surrounded by tea plantations and greenery that was interrupted by occasional waterfalls. The scenery around the hill country was notable. It did remind me of the Scottish Highlands but still, it wasn’t really similar to the evergreen I have seen in Scotland. It was wild and flirtatious with those long legged trees, unlike the more dignified British counterparts. Driving by all those tea plantations, we asked our driver if we can stop at one. Guess what? We made a stop at a Scottish tea factory just on time for afternoon tea. The factory tour took us through the process of making tea and introduced us to the different kinds of tea leaves and what can be made out of each one. We took a quick walk among tea trees and sampled some of the tea produced by the factory. We didn’t catch the workers picking up the leaves unfortunately as it was after working hours when we had the tour. Nonetheless, it was nice and informative.

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A 194 years old tea machine – Glenloch Tea Factory

We were told by our driver that some areas are segregated according to faith but as we drove by that specific neighborhood in Central Province, we passed a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple all next to one another. Talking about cultural and religion diversity here, I wondered if the people living in that area were at peace with one another. And if the humble people of Sri Lanka were able to accomplish such harmony despite all the differences, then why the rest of the world is still having acceptance problems?! Wouldn’t it be easier to accept instead of reject and decline?

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The architecture of mosques in Sri Lanka is entirely different than the Middle East – Central Province

We reached our final destination after sunset but even the dark couldn’t hide how beautiful Nuwara Eliya was. It was so colonial that I couldn’t believe I was still in Sri Lanka, our driver told us locals call it Little England and you could actually tell why once you set eyes on it.

Our accommodation in Nuwara Eliya was yet at another guesthouse that was absolutely lovely. The place overlooks Lake Gregory; it has an outside garden with trees and flower creepers everywhere, and rooms that are unusually decorated with bright colors. Our room was purple and came with butterfly decorations. The host was an extremely helpful and nice guy. I consulted him about the Horton Plains hike we were planning on doing in the morning and he was so patient with me because I literally asked him a good deal of questions about that one and what was to come afterwards throughout our trip.

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The view along the way to Nuwara Eliya – Central Province

Weather strike number two that day, we had to cancel that hike! The Horton Plains is a hike that is advisably done at sunrise and that requires a very early start of the day. The weather forecast said rainy and cold so we had to abort it. Surprisingly, the meticulous and planned self was totally fine with that conclusion! I didn’t want to be wet and cold and end up not being able to see the sun rising nor enjoy the stunning views of World’s End, so accepting that fact was the right thing to do. By the time we were in town, it was too late to have dinner at the guesthouse but our kind host recommended a nearby Indian restaurant. I think that was the best dinner I had during the whole trip. The food was mouthwatering and Sara and I went into this laughing frenzy, it could have been the spices maybe! We literally laughed our hearts out; it was such a warming ending to a great day.

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Our dinner at Indian Summer Restaurant – Nuwara Eliya

 

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Wet but smiling 🙂 – Sigiriya Rock

What’s next after cancelling our planned hike? Find that one out in the upcoming part of my trip to Sri Lanka 😉

Venturing into Sri Lanka – Part 1

Technically, I have been living in Asia since I moved to Kuwait nearly two years ago but it doesn’t feel like the Asia I have always had in mind, maybe because it’s part of the Middle East! When I think of that continent, I picture coconut trees, tropical fruits, the ocean, islands, forests, and temples. So anything else is not considered Asia in my dictionary!! I know this defies all geographical concepts but this is how it is with me and that big chunk of a continent.

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A tuk tuk and a vispa, very popular means of transport in Sri Lanka

The semester break (another overdue post!) was at the doors and of course, I had to spend it somewhere. So instead of flying to Europe as I usually did, I decided to cross over to “Asia”. This time, I was looking for a country directly connected to Kuwait and honestly, that didn’t leave me with much options to choose from. And I ended up having my mind set on that island south of India, the island that goes by the name of Sri Lanka. With direct flights from where I’m and an easily obtained online visa, that was the perfect combo at the time.

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The Golden Temple – Dambulla

That was my first time to journey to that side of the continent, an entirely new territory for me. I was kind of clueless and at the same time quite reluctant to venture solo especially that Sri Lanka (unfortunately) has a reputation of being a little unfriendly to female solo travelers. And while my decision was still up in the air, a friend from work asked to join and I said hop on, let’s get this trip up and running.

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Outside the Cave Temple – Dambulla

I have been a solitary traveler for a while now so when Sara went on board, I honestly was both excited and concerned. I was thrilled to be sharing the trip with someone else but myself, somebody who will relate to all the inside jokes for instance and oh boy, those were abundant. Honeymoon 😀 At the same time, I was a little anxious because it has been a while since I traveled with company. I was always the force behind all my decisions and I really couldn’t have pulled that attitude off on that trip having someone else’s preferences to consider. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with that but the trip had to be jointly planned.

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The view around the Cave Temple – Dambulla

It was a little hectic sometimes trying to meet up to get the trip planned accommodating everything we both wanted but eventually that went by perfectly well and we ended up having a blast. We faced a little hiccup though when we discovered a week or so before traveling that I won’t be allowed in inside any Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka because of my headscarf. As according to the Sri Lankan Buddhist customs, you need to uncover your head and be barefoot when entering a temple. And since I’m a veiled Muslim, I will be denied entrance and that discovery puzzled us! Our visit to Kandy where the major site in town is the temple of the Sacred Tooth will be inconvenient to only me!

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Yes, that’s correct. Elephant dung is recycled to make paper 😀

I thought we could split up for a day or two but Sara was ok with the idea of skipping Kandy altogether and so we did. The plan got shuffled, Kandy was skipped, and instead of spending our first night in Colombo, we went straight ahead to Dambulla passing by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on the way.

We had quite a smooth start flying from Kuwait and all. For that day, we arranged for an airport pick up with our accommodation in Dambulla. So we landed, got stamped, claimed our luggage, then took off from the airport and went on our way to the orphanage.

(TIP: applying for an online visa can save you some waiting time queuing to pay for a visa before heading to the passport control officer and it’s cheaper. My friend paid double the amount I paid on the online visa!)

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Look at this cutie ❤ – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Though it was still early morning, we were welcomed by the heat and humidity once we stepped outside the airport. But the car’s AC and scenery along the road helped fade all those sticky feelings away. There were coconut trees and greenery everywhere. The sides of the road were crammed with humble one story houses and small shops. The roads were chaotic and bogging and to most people, I would imagine, the adjustment to such a notion can be difficult. But coming from Egypt where we have similar characteristics in some areas of the country, that scene wasn’t new to my eye. And in my humble opinion, that disarray is simply one part of the whole experience. There is a certain level of beauty in all that clutter and only an unwonted eye can see amid the rubble to unveil what’s hidden underneath. One has to just look more closely I guess!

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The river side of the orphanage

The elephant orphanage didn’t really appeal to me to tell you the truth. Feeding the elephants would have been interesting but unfortunately we missed it by the time we were there. It’s kind of a small property with elephants roaming around in a contained manner. The thing I liked the most during the visit was being able to watch them bathing in the nearby river. A couple of elephants were chained while bathing and I wondered if this is an orphanage, why chain the poor animals? I would suggest skipping the orphanage, unless you really want to touch an elephant, and instead go on a safari where you can actually see wild elephants grazing. Now THAT was much more enjoyable 🙂

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Shower time 😀

Our driver was a really nice guy. We bombarded him with tons of questions about the places we will be going to making sure we got everything right but most importantly, we inquired about the must try local food and he replied back with a list. Such a great help he was. After the orphanage, he drove us to our accommodation in Dambulla which turned out to be an amazing place. It was a family run homestay in a quiet area with a perfect location, the town’s main street and bus station were a short walk away and the famous Cave Temple was roughly 3 km down the road.

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Second thoughts on coconut water!

The host, Daniel, was just amazing. He provided us with some local final touches to our itinerary, helped in arranging a safari trip for the next day, and surprisingly took it upon himself when he knew I was denied entry at the temple earlier that evening. Before Sara and I went to the temple, I had a small talk with him and mentioned what I came to know regarding the issue. He assured me that it’s fine and that I won’t have a problem getting in since Sri Lanka has a Muslim community already. So when I told him later that I wasn’t allowed in, he got so upset and promised to inquire about the incident and even report it to mayor! I heard that and felt like, Uh Oh, did I just start a cultural conflict?! The guy at the entrance to the temple was actually rude and he dismissed me in quite a disgraceful way even when I tried to explain that I meant no disrespect with the veil and it’s only because of my faith that my head is covered. Nonetheless, he wasn’t willing to debate and kept on shooing me off with his hands. That was far from being nice and it left me feeling terrible because for the first time ever, my veil was causing me an issue!! So after such mishap, Daniel’s reaction was overwhelming and comforting.

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Polonnaruwa

We woke up the following day to nice weather after such a rainy evening the previous night. And may I say that that day was the best weather we had during the whole week? Indeed it was THE best weather we had during the whole week! Now January is supposed to be one of the best months to visit Sri Lanka since it’s still the dry season except for a few rainy days and what are a few rainy days? No biggie, right? Well, we were in for a little surprise regarding the weather as we came to know later.

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Inside a Sri Lankan bus 😀

After a hearty breakfast, our host gave us a ride in his tuk tuk to the bus station where we were to take the bus to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Our first encounter with public transportation, YAY! Going around Sri Lanka using public transport is really cheap and can save you a lot but you need to be patient and tolerant because it’s quite hectic. For starters, the drivers drive like crazy. I thought microbus drivers in Egypt are crazy but to Sri Lankans, there is a whole new level of it. The roads are narrow and winding especially in the hill country and with their speed and competitiveness to take over one another you would need to have the guts for it. Also, it’s not always guaranteed that you will find a seat in the bus and you might need to stand for a while or maybe till your final destination. One thing is for sure, people won’t stop getting on a bus, or even a train, just because it’s crowded! No sir, they will keep on squeezing in so be ready to get sandwiched.

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The ruins of a Buddhist temple – The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa

Don’t be alarmed by all that daftness as it’s quite an experience. You wouldn’t believe how kind the locals can be, they would offer you help just like that without you even asking for it. On our way back to Dambulla that day, there was that old lady who insisted on offering me her seat and when I politely declined she offered to hold my backpack. She did that without a word of English but with such sincerity that I was so humbled by her kindness. She would leave me standing there for a while then offer me her seat again, and again till she finally went off the bus. In a world where most youngsters won’t even consider offering their seats to elders, that incident left me speechless.

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The only temple I was able to enter because there was no one at the door to send me away!! – The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa

By the time we arrived to our destination, the sun was in full bloom and the weather was just perfect. The bus stop is just a few steps away from the ticket office which acts as the starting point of the archaeological site with a small museum that can be checked before heading to the ancient ruins. The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa is huge and while you can choose to walk or take any kind of a ride, we decided to tour it on bikes and I personally believe that was the best way to do it, we absolutely loved it. Renting a bike for those few hours won’t be a problem, there are plenty of rentals to choose from. We paid 400 rupees each and I had no idea if this was a good deal or not, it’s kind of hard to figure those things out in Sri Lanka considering how cheap the currency is compared to US dollars for instance.

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Another Buddhist temple –  The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa

The ancient site was stunning and despite the fact that I went through another unpleasant encounter at the entrance of one of the temples on the site, I had such a wonderful morning biking the premises. Cycling from one spot to another marveling at the beauty of the decaying ruins while sun rays beamed from among tree branches felt so peaceful and serene. There is a special kind of splendor in ruins that I always find captivating and the ones in Plonnaruwa didn’t disappoint.

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The remains of another Buddhist temple – The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa

After such a delightful morning and some delicious chop suey vegetables with fried rice for lunch, it was time for my first safari ever! HURRAY! We met with our safari guide, Manjula, and went off to the Minneriya National Park. With an open roof jeep and the afternoon sun beaming in, we were ready to take off on our tour and we had quite a start. The visit to the park starts with a roughly 45 minutes drive through a dirt road lined with trees, some of them were huge tall bamboo trees, and around 20 minutes or so through the drive we found ourselves in a pickle! A fellow jeep was stuck in mud while crossing a tiny waterway to continue on the road and into the park. Unluckily, all the driver’s efforts to get the jeep out were in vain as the machine kept on sinking deeper and deeper into the thick mud. Such a bummer, yeah? Actually, it wasn’t. Well yeah that incident caused the “traffic” to congest but witnessing the collaborative efforts of everyone, including a few tourists, to get that jeep out of the mud was such a nice act.

(TIP: Kaudulla National Park is another option. It’s a little further down the road from Minneriya and slightly more expensive because of that but the price difference is not huge! Minneriya is more popular.)

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Get me out of here! Jungle traffic 😀

It took about half an hour and 6 failed attempts to get it off the mud and clear the road to the line of awaiting jeeps. A short distance afterwards the road cleared up to this vast stretch of land that is the national park and I just went WOW! The winding dirt road finally gave way to that clearing of green and blue. There was that big lake surrounded by all sorts of green with birds flying over and a collection of trees decorating the background, I have never seen anything like that before. Minneriya is famous for wild elephants and as we drove around the lake to see more of the park, we kept an eye out for them.

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Wild elephants – Minneriya National Park

It wasn’t hard to spot them after all since all jeeps would stop and spectate at the parade of wild elephants. It was a much more exciting sight than the orphanage, it felt more natural watching the elephants grazing in their own habitat. Our guide told us he spotted a Sri Lankan leopard before but unfortunately we were not that lucky. But leopards or not, the safari was so enjoyable though it was kind of crowded. We wrapped it up a little before 6 pm which is the closing time of the park, and were greeted goodbye by pink cotton candy sunset skies ❤ And that everybody, was the only sunset I witnessed throughout the whole trip as the weather turned its back on us from that day on 😀

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Wild elephants taking a dip (the only time when the zoom lens would be handy and I don’t bring it!)- Minneriya National Park

One of the greatest benefits of traveling with somebody is never forgetting to eat! I have the habit of getting caught up in the moment while traveling solo skipping the eating segment completely!! Luckily this time, I had Sara to remind me that we needed to put some food into our systems. After the safari, we were in for some rice and curry for dinner and Manjula dropped us off at a place he recommended. He even offered to drive us back to Habarana afterwards so we can pick up the bus back to Dambulla. Manjula, thanks a lot for everything. Back to the rice and curry, it was super delish, we devoured everything, except those spicy dishes though!! The people at the restaurant were so kind, they made sure we didn’t need anything and since we had to decline Manjula’s offer to drive us to town, they insisted on sending someone to wait with us till we take the “right” bus back as it happens that it actually passes by just outside the restaurant. The amount of kindness I received from the locals in the course of one day left me with a profound humbling feeling.

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With our guide Manjula during the safari – Minneriya National Park

 

Are you doing the cultural triangle? Yeah?  Plonnaruwa is only one part of it, stay tuned for more 😉

 

Traveling Solo: Second Edition

So last April on yet another short break, I decided to travel. Typical! And since I only had 5 days, it had to be somewhere close and visa-hassle free and I decided on a nearby country that I have always wanted to visit; Jordan. I was finally going to see Petra, hurray!!

Now 5 days don’t do Jordan justice but they were all I had and I needed to make full use of them. I searched here and there and got everything settled, I even bought myself a Jordan Pass just to discover later that I didn’t actually need one since I’m an Egyptian. So yes Egyptians, and Arabs as well I was told, are entitled for a free of charge 30 days entry, just head straight to the Jordanian section of passport control at the airport (if you are an Arab holding a foreign passport you will need to pay for the visa). Another cool thing that I also discovered later is that while sightseeing, I get to pay as a Jordanian. I ended up paying so little at all sights and the one day ticket to Petra cost me 1 JD instead of 50. Sorry folks! Well yeah I saved those 50 dinars but ended up paying them for a certified guide, ha ha, was totally worth it though.

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The Dead Sea – Jordan

Now, for such a short break, I shouldn’t be needing much luggage I thought. Consequently I replaced my suitcase with a backpack. I have never backpacked before and the idea seemed so appealing at the time that I totally went for it. It was inevitable anyway, I would have to do it sooner or later so why not now. I went shopping for one and got the biggest backpack I found at the shop (90 L), thinking the bigger size the better, right? Thank God I did 😀 I do pack light don’t get me wrong but being veiled doesn’t make packing any easier since everything tends to take more space. And though I really did pack light, taking only the necessary stuff, the 15 k-backpack looked gigantic. People would give me looks of sympathy at the sight of it hanging over my back and would ask me what I have inside! That incident reminded me of Wild, the book/movie, when Cheryl used to call her backpack monster. You can say that mine was monster’s baby sister 😀

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Is it an epic fail 😦

When I arrived in Amman early morning I had few hours till check in time at the hotel and I used those hours to take a quick trip to the Dead Sea which is about two hours away from the capital. The Dead Sea is simply remarkable, it’s earth’s lowest elevation, the deepest and saltiest waterbody in the world, and absolutely worth the visit. The floating experience, if you haven’t done it before, is something to look for. And of course you must treat yourself with one of those mud masks to relish in their medicinal benefits.

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The Castle in Amman

I only had that day for Amman so once I checked in, I went straight out to walk around the downtown area where I was staying. My starting point was the Roman Theatre which was just across the street from the hotel. The presence of this antique in the midst of modern-day buildings and paved streets is significant. You walk inside, climb a step or two, and you surpass the daily hustle and bustle into history. What a feeling! For the few remaining hours I had till sunset, I took myself to the castle which is another great place to visit. The remains of it lay on a high point in town and the views of the city from up there with those Roman columns decorating them are extraordinary. After all that walking, I treated myself to an oven hot konafa from Habibah, the thought of it now leaves me drawling 😀 yummy!!

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The Roman Theater in Amman

The highlight of that trip was actually visiting Petra, I had it on my bucket list for quite a very long time and I was so happy to be finally there. The site is just huge, you can’t cover it all in one visit and there is actually a 3-days ticket to the Rose City. Petra was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom and can be accessed via walking through a canyon called Al Siq. The entire city was carved into rose colored sandstone cliffs hence the name; Rose City. It’s so impressive how those huge and beautifully designed temples and tombs were carved so precisely at times where only primitive techniques and tools were used. The first sight of the treasury nearly to the end of the Siq took my breath away, I was so mesmerized by its presence that I was left in awe.

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The Treasury – Petra

I started my visit around noon with approximately 6 to 7 hours before the site closes at sunset and have decided to go for the most visited, main trail. I thought I would do the main trail, which took me through the Siq to the treasury and ended up at the Girl’s Palace, then try to do something else if time allowed it afterwards. This time, I had my mind set on hiring a certified guide (learning from a mistake I did few years back in Pompeii). It was my first time to go on a somehow guided tour for a historic sight but it was totally worth it. I was lucky enough to have a native, an actual Nabatean, as my guide who was so informative and made my visit so enjoyable. I had few hours left until sunset by the time I was finished with the main trail and for those remaining hours I went up to the monastery or Ad Deir following the suggestion of the guide and the Visit Petra people, who by the way were very helpful with their prompt replies/recommendations. Ad Deir is the smaller version of the treasury façade/size-wise but it wasn’t less impressive. And the “climb” up there was scenic. Yes climb because you would actually need to go over a couple of hundred steps to reach the place.

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If you made it all the way up to Ad Deir, just go a little further up the hill to the “best view” point and you will be rewarded by this view ❤

I was really tired by the time I started wrapping my visit up but nonetheless, I walked myself through the Colonnaded Street and paid the church a visit before finally leaving the premises. The main church in Petra has those marvelous well preserved mosaic floors that can’t be missed. When I reached the treasury on my way back to the visitor center, the spot was quieter and the sun wasn’t shining from the back of the façade unlike in the afternoon when I first laid my eyes on it and with those colors, the treasury felt more captivating. So I sat on a bench, resting, and at the same time staring at it while marveling at its beauty and greatness.

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Ad Deir – Petra

I have decided in advance to spend that night in Petra, which happens to be the name of the town as well, because for one, I wanted to go to Petra at night and for two, I wanted to go to Wadi Rum which is much closer to Petra than to Amman. And although I was worn out after all the walking and the 5 hours bus trip in the morning from Amman to Petra, I had to overcome the tiredness to walk myself back to my night’s accommodation for dinner before compelling myself to walk all the way through the Siq again in order to witness the treasury when being lit by over 1500 candles. One word, spectacular!

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Saying good bye to my host before heading to Wadi Rum – Petra

The accommodation I had in Petra was recommended to me by the agency I contacted to organize the Wadi Rum visit and it was just fantastic. The place is actually a villa turned into a B&B that is run by a Dutch lady named Jolanda who happens to be very hospitable and an excellent cook. My room had views of Wadi Musa from its balcony and was spacious and very comfortable. The dinner I had that night was super delicious, one of the best meals I have ever had and Jolanda was kind enough to arrange for a taxi to take me back to Petra for the night show since I was already walking funny after I came back from the morning visit. I was heading to Wadi Rum early next morning and she made sure that I have breakfast before the bus takes me to the wadi to meet with my guide. It was such a nice short stay, it felt like staying at a friend or a relative and as always, I wished I had the time to stay longer!

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Wadi Rum ❤

I came across the agency I hired for the Wadi Rum tour through TripAdvisor, they came highly recommended and they lived up to it. I had a funny incident with those guys while booking the tour because since I was traveling solo, I didn’t want to end up being on my own with the guide camping in the desert. It would have been so awkward and inconvenient I have to admit! So I asked to join a group and they told me that there was only this family who signed up to the same trip at the same day but they will need to check with them first if they won’t mind having me on board. And so I joined the family for the day and the night camp with no expectations on how they will be and they turned out to be such a cool and fun family. Thank God 😀 hahahaha (just kidding, I know you will be reading this guys :D) I just had a blast with those fellas and literally laughed my heart out over their jokes. It was such a pleasure to get to know them. My future family must be as cool as that one is 😀 hahahaha

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With the gorgeous family and our very nice and kind guide Habis – Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum was unreal, the reddish sands and hills were incredible; no wonder The Martian was filmed there. The vastness of the wadi with the unusual sand colors and scattered greenery were imaginary. It somehow reminded me of South Sinai but only through a different palette of colors. I have not realized how much I have missed camping until that night, the Bedouin food and tea under a sky full of stars ❤ Simply and utterly wonderful.

After an amazing night camp and a peaceful morning, I had to say good bye to those lovely people as I was driven to Aqaba to catch the bus back to Amman. I was dead tired by the time I arrived at the hotel in Amman, the same one where I spent my first night. I was in a bad need of a shower and a good rest but I also needed to get some food into my system so I forced myself to postpone sleeping for few hours till I get something to eat and Rainbow street was a good choice with a wide selection of cafes and restaurants.

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Ajloun Castle which is built on a hilltop of Jabal Ajloun offers stunning views of the surrounding area but unlucky us, it wasn’t the perfect weather for such view – Ajloun

For the last day before leaving Jordan, I signed up for a day tour to Um Qais, Ajloun Castle, and Jerash with the hotel I was staying at, most hotels organize such trips for their guests in case you are wondering. I was joined by Lux from Argentina and Allan from Indonesia for the day, more company to enjoy. I must give it up to Allan here, he has such a big appetite for life and he is a living proof that it’s never too late and one is never too old to start doing what one loves or to even enjoy life. So please, don’t bother about the number that is your age and just live. It was great spending the day with the two of them, it’s always fun to get to know new people while traveling and in that trip, I came to know more people than I thought I will.

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Um Qais is a town in north Jordan, it offers panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. It was cloudy when we visited unfortunately but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless.

The best part of that tour was Jerash I have to admit so if you don’t have the time for the 3 of them just go straight there. It was so gloomy and a little rainy all through the day unfortunately which made the views from Um Qais and up the castle in Ajloun not that perfect but the sun finally welcomed us by the time we were at Jerash. Jerash was just mesmerizing, the architecture was stunning and the views of the modern city as seen from inside the historical sight made such an interesting mixture between the old and the new; it’s truly “Pompeii of the East”.

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Jerash ❤

That tour was the wrap up to my short trip to beautiful Jordan, I just had to go for one last konafa before leaving Amman though 😀 My second solo traveling experience turned out to be richer than I thought it would be. I was hardly on my own throughout the trip unlike my first solo encounter where I was completely enjoying my solitude. I got to know lots of awesome people during those days I spent in Jordan and I had such great times with them.

They were people to learn from, people who enabled me to experience more of myself, what I’m and what I want to be. Some of the most interesting encounters I had with locals while traveling were during that trip as Jordanians were quite curious about me, a Middle Eastern female who is veiled and travels solo. I was always approached and asked where I’m from and most of the times, talked to in English because for some reason they didn’t think of me as Middle Eastern and the best encounters were the ones I had in Petra with the Bedouins, who spoke perfect English by the way. I went on that trip last April but it feels like it was yesterday. Jordan was one of the top countries on my list, I’m glad I was able to finally pay it a visit but I can’t really say it got crossed off my list as I’m definitely sure that I will be visiting again. Till next time Jordan ❤

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At the top of one of the Roman Theaters in Jerash ❤

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ in Scotland – To Conclude

So today my Highlands road trip comes to an end as I head to Edinburgh then back to London. I woke up early that morning and it was so peaceful in the campsite, everyone was either still asleep or went out already. I walked around to have a look at the place in day light before I take off, and it’s truly a wonderful site and my extremely short stay didn’t do it justice but hopefully there will be a next time.

I had ran into a nearby fish and chip place the other night so I passed by for a quick breakfast before hitting the road. I had roughly a little less than two hours of driving till I get to the airport in Edinburgh and since I started really early that day and had more time than I needed, I decided to take it slow and marvel at the landscape in the Loch Lomond Park while driving through. There was absolutely no need to rush myself this time.

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I was driving through the Loch Lomond Park in the early morning and when I passed by the loch I was mesmerized by those reflections of green ❤

So I put on some nice music and drove calmly by those serene morning sceneries enjoying the melodic sedative feelings that were besieging me that day. I can’t really remember what I was listening to that morning but I have always enjoyed singing out loud to whatever music I had on. I enjoyed my weird and epic playlists as my sister calls them and have to admit that Coldplay played a major role in those playlists 😀

Oh God it was so peaceful and quiet that morning which made it all so surreal and I felt heartbroken to be leaving! Ultimately, I reached the airport, dropped off my red Fiat 500x, and headed to Edinburgh to enjoy the few hours I had before the train took me back to London for the weekend. Edinburgh couldn’t have been any more welcoming, it was sunny and beautiful when I arrived. I walked around, had some food, and enjoyed some really good live rock/bagpipe music. I felt really bad that day when I was driving out of Skye and now that I was leaving Scotland, the feeling was immense. I guess it means that I had such a blast and that’s basically the whole idea, right?! Great times are bound to come to an end, they can’t last forever but they are indeed curved into our memories till the end of time.

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Why ask someone to take a picture when you can take a selfie 😀 – Edinburgh 

What a trip that one was and it wasn’t only because of the new places I have seen or what I have done but also because of how it remolded my personality. My first hostel experience when I was in London a couple of weeks earlier wasn’t that great! It left me feeling utterly out of place and for the first time ever I wasn’t at all comfortable about my veil, I got concerned about performing my daily prayers in the room that I didn’t pray at all during the whole trip! That felt so bad I have to say, being forced to skip prayers so it won’t get any more awkward! The experience in Scotland was the total opposite, all my hostel stays were great, the people were super nice and accepting and though I didn’t feel comfortable enough to pray in the room still, but being treated without prejudice helped shake off the feeling of not belonging.

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I ran into this tiny waterfall on the way to the Old Man of Storr – Skye

One of the best encounters I had that time was during my second night in Edinburgh. I was moved into a long stay female dorm where an Argentinian opened the door for me and once she saw me she asked where I come from and seeing me veiled and everything she told me oh God I have lots of stuff to ask you about. I was so tired that night wanting to sleep badly, but we ended up talking for almost two hours discussing religion, points of view, and how everyone of us saw things from a different perspective. It got even more interesting when an Algerian-French lady joined the conversation.

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My road companion 😀

It was such a great opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about Muslims and Islam. To show that not all of us are the extremists who are talked about in the media and that most of us are as normal as anyone else but dressed differently.

That encounter was a good exercise to learn how to cope and accept our differences. It surely strengthened my conviction in myself, who I’m, and what I stand for and that one should always seek acceptance instead of feeling apologetic about oneself as a person just because of being different. Isn’t this how it’s supposed to be in the first place? To be received and accepted as human beings for who we are with disregard to race, skin color, and religion. We should be appreciated for our own ideals, intellect and characters because this is what a person is all about and nothing else.

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Scott Monument – Edinburgh 

The obstacles I went through during my first day, though they kind of broke me down a little, but they also toughened me up to a great extent. I was able to think my new situation over and find a solution to the mess that has happened in spite of how gloomy I felt back then. That was a very important lesson to learn, to know how to turn things around and always being able to see that break in the clouds.

A few years ago, I had a very serious car accident while driving back to Cairo from the North Coast on the highway. I didn’t get injured physically but psychologically I always faced insecurities when it came to driving on highways or even going past a certain speeding limit. It took me a year to have the courage to drive my car again on that same highway or even to be confident enough while driving through the city. Going on that road trip melted away all the self-doubt I still had buried inside of me due to that accident. For the first time I was driving a car other than mine, worried only about traffic rules and not being in a different car. I felt more confident to press that gas paddle a little, and get rid of the fear of going over a 100 km per hour! And though I acted all girly sometimes asking for help every now and again, those long drives were a great factor in strengthening my grit.

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Eilean Donan Castle  

I can keep going on and on about the returns of this trip forever, all the encounters, great conversations and the awesome people I met along the way made it all so special. Wrapping it up here is causing me tremendous nostalgia. It was one of the greatest trips I have ever had, a trip that caused me a severe case of post vacation blues 😀 I can’t curb the urge to go back to Scotland, to re-familiarize myself with what I have come to know by now and to discover that that is still unknown. But above all, I can’t wait for my next road trip 🙂

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On my way to Storr – Skye

 

 

Road Trippin’ in Scotland – Part 5

Today marked my last day in Skye and the Highlands all together as I would be heading to Edinburgh the following morning to drop off my car and bid Scotland farewell. I had two planned hikes for the day followed by a long drive to my accommodation afterwards so I needed to start quite early that morning. While checking out at the hostel I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon, one of the hostel’s personnel. Such a nice guy Gordon was, he went through the day’s plan with me offering advice and guidance. He gave me directions to where I was going next on a paper map of Skye in case the navigation went crazy on me which it sometimes did!! The best assistance he offered me was regarding the night’s accommodation, it was crucial for me to stay somewhere as close as possible to Edinburgh to spare myself a long and tiring drive the following morning.

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The end of the road of Lealt Falls – Skye

I was planning on spending that night in Glencoe but it was actually fully booked and I couldn’t find any room to spend the night. Gordon suggested staying somewhere else closer to the Loch Lomond National Park, the place was only a 1 hour and 40 minutes drive away from Edinburgh and that was just perfect. He was of such a great help while I was making the arrangements for the accommodation, I almost had no signal on my phone and it was impossible to make calls. I needed to get them through using the hostel’s landline which was willingly made available for my usage. The network is quite bad in Skye specially the more you go up north so be prepared for that. May I also say that his recommendation for breakfast was excellent! Thank you so much Gordon for such a great start of my day 🙂

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The harbor in Portree at sunrise – Portree

And so I took off after having a nice breakfast while sitting on a bench in the downtown area enjoying the crisp morning breeze. I had a final look at the harbor with the sun reflecting on the still waters as I walked myself to the car to start on my drive up north to The Old Man of Storr.

It was cold and got kind of gray when the road opened up towards Storr, it turned rainy on me later but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the day. The Old Man of Storr is nearly a two hours hike, was a little tough on my poor knee at some parts but it was totally worth it. The views from up there were incredible, a 360 degrees feast for the eyes.

There were hardly any signs to guide the ascent and I had to improvise following the dirt road scrambling myself up to the Old Man. I couldn’t reach the very base of it though as it was steep and quite difficult to climb with a bit of a drizzle as well. Unfortunately, I came to know later that there was an easier way to climb to the Old Man itself other than the scrambling I did on the wrong side of the pinnacle! Urg!

I had a very wet and muddy descend and by the time I made it to the car my hiking pants were soaking wet and I was freezing. I needed to stay in the car for nearly half an hour with the heating on to warm myself up and allow my pants to dry out before I go further up the road to the Quirang.

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The Old Man of Storr with the pinnacle and spiral to the upright corner of the photo – Skye

The landscape surrounding the Quirang was unrealistic, those vast and grandiose hills at different elevations with ponds scattered around just blew my mind. I couldn’t resist not turning my head in all possible directions as I was ascending to take in the view that was enveloping me.

That time, I decided to hike light leaving my backpack and DSLR in the car, taking only the GoPro and mobile with me along with a bottle of water. I kicked off the path following the track as it went up and shortly after I have started I met Narges and David.

We started on a casual conversation and ended up hiking the trail together encouraging one another actually to go on the longer 3 hours route. I was actually glad having met them because when the hike ended I felt that it wouldn’t have been as nice if I had done it alone!

It was drizzling already when we started and the path was very muddy and hard to follow, it would have been difficult to figure out which way to go if I was on my own. David had one of those walking the Highlands books that described the walk and even with the help of that book we got confused at some points, especially when the book advised us to follow the “clear” track, a track that wasn’t that clear at all!

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The Kilt Rock – Skye

We were the only ones doing that part of the trail so we had to rely on our sense of direction and the quite misleading info provided by the book. By that time it was raining already and that made the uphill climb to the summit quite difficult, it wasn’t easy to ascend on puddles and boggy heathers but we ended up making it to the flat summit and we kind of improvised our descent to the parking, a declivity that got slippery over those wet heathers. It was such an enjoyable hike nonetheless, we parted ways at the parking as they were heading to Uig and I needed to drive myself out of Skye to north Loch Lomond for the night’s accommodation. That was a little more than 5 hours of nonstop driving, a drive that took me throw Glencoe and Fort Williams.

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A high-point view of the Quiraing

The sceneries on my way back to the mainland and off Skye were as grand as they were coming in. Massive hills covered in green and tall trees with waterfalls gushing from everywhere, I was driving that wending line that found its way through their rugged presence and was greeted every now and then by a still mass of water. That drive was the perfect ending to my Highlands visit; I drove by a calm sunset and was welcomed afterwards by a big bright moon. Of course the photographer in me so wanted to stop and catch a photo or two but I compelled myself to better have that scene saved in my memory. We are not supposed to tangibly capture everything our eyes see I believe; sometimes it’s best to keep sights safely locked up in one’s recollection.

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With Narges & David who offered me water when what I had ran out, and snacks to keep me going for my long drive. It was a pleasure meeting you guys 🙂  And of course you can notice the permanent problem of my glasses getting foggy due to humidity 😀

And so I kept on driving to reach my destination; that was the longest and toughest drive in the whole trip. I was tired, yearning for a hot shower and a comfy bed and those one lane single carriageways drove me nuts. I had to utilize my Egyptian driving skills overtaking few cars at a time because I wasn’t able to keep my eyes opened any longer, I just needed that drive to come to an end and it did safely thank goodness!

The campsite I was staying at was just perfect; thank you Gordon! I had a camping hut all for myself, and when I checked the location in the morning I was in love. The site is located almost on the outer north premises of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs national park and has a few walks around the area where you can just go on foot leaving your car behind. I wished I had my tent to camp there and stay for longer but maybe next time. Highlands, this is not the end, I will be back-Terminator-style 😀

That night in the camp I had the best hot shower I ever had throughout the trip, I was clean and hungry because of course I forgot to have a proper dinner but I was ready to have a good night sleep since in the morning I had to say goodbye to the Highlands and Scotland altogether with kind of a broken but yet happy heart!

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 When a wide angle lens is not wide enough to capture the view – The Old Man of Storr, Skye

Road Trippin’ in Scotland – Part 4

Skye was by far the highlight of the road trip, the part I longed for the most. I had an early start that day in hopes of reaching Portree right away but the nearly 2 hours something drive took me longer than I anticipated. I was there an hour or so before sunset time not because of a dreary drive like the one I had to Inverness, but simply because it was so scenic that I couldn’t help but stop every now and then in awe of the surrounding landscape. And every time I stopped I would tell myself this is the last time, just continue straight to Portree afterwards but then comes another viewpoint/walk sign and I would stop again and again.

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Loch Cluanie – Stop 1

Loch Cluanie was one of the halts I made along the way, it was so beautiful that I ended up making 3 different stops along its shore. A little more driving down the road and I came across Eilean Donan castle, it looked like a castle out of a fairytale and so I stopped for a quick visit. Less than half an hour of driving later, I passed the sign of the Lochalsh Woodland Walk and without second thoughts I took the turn that led to the parking. I just couldn’t control myself especially that by that time the sun was finally able to find its way through from among the clouds and the weather was becoming perfect. That short walk between the long woodland trees with the sun beams creeping in was a dream, and the views of Lochalsh were wondrous, it was totally worth the time.

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Loch Cluanie – Stop 2

After all the stops, I eventually drove myself over the Skye Bridge to the final destination of the day, where I will be spending the night, Portree. This small town was packed by the time I arrived, it was hard to find a parking spot and a place to have dinner!! I had to wait for more than an hour just to order a pizza for dinner; with people waiting outside bars and restaurants to get a table, pizza was the quickest option available at the time!

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Loch Cluanie – Stop 3

It was kind of problematic to find accommodation in Portree or the nearby area I noticed, I kept on running into people making calls to check for availability. I heard Skye had few rainy days that forced campers to switch to indoor accommodation, so unexpectedly all places got fully booked. That got me worried to be honest, I feared that I won’t be able to find a place to spend the night and that I will end up driving somewhere far for accommodation. The network in town was really bad as well, it was almost impossible to use the internet to look for accommodation and unfortunately the place I chose to have dinner in had no wi fi, what a bummer! Luckily, I had a hostels guide that a friend gave me before my trip and with the aid of that guide I was able to secure a bunk bed in a female dorm in one of the town’s hostels, it probably was the last available bed too!

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Eilean Donan Castle overlooking Loch Duich

The hostel was very central, close to the downtown square and only a few steps away from the Visit Scotland Information office. I shared the room that night with students from China and Japan whom I happened to accidentally talk to while walking around the downtown area, and a French girl, Isabelle, who plays the bagpipe. Did I mention that there was a bagpipe band playing live music in town that evening? There was one yes and I was able to hear them while in my room. I just love bagpipe music and being able to hear it almost everywhere I went to was very delightful.

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Lochalsh Woodland Walk ❤

Anyway, Isabelle was something; she was touring the Highlands as well, solo, and doing it via public transportation since she is not old enough to rent a car. She was fun to talk to and of such a great help as well. I was hesitant about which walks to do the following day, which was actually my last day in Skye, and while I was talking with her about it she brought out this Highlands walks book and we started going through it to decide which walks I should go for. She even helped me in figuring out my way on a paper map she had since the network was too bad to use Google maps and the car navigation I had only dealt with post codes and town names and used to go nuts on me when given something else.

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Part of the landscape I drove through on my way to Portree

She was so impressive for her age, she knew how to navigate road maps and use coordinates to find specific locations. I’m not sure if I’m that good in handling coordinates and road maps to be honest, I can find my way around a city map but never used a road map to travel around before considering that this is my first road trip ever! I’m glad I was able to have that small talk with her that night, such a remarkable young lady.

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Downtown Portree the next morning ❤

So, pizza for dinner, a live bagpipe show in downtown, and very exciting conversations with such cool people. That was me calling it a night, I needed to have a good night sleep as I was going to have some serious hiking and driving the following day.

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At Loch Cluaine 🙂